The Exiled Prince, or The Archquisitor’s Tale, by Robert Reginald

The Exiled Prince, or The Archquisitor's Tale, by Robert Reginald book coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ariadne Press CA
Published: 2004
Reviewer Rating: four and a half stars
Book Review by Kate Savage

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I often avoid reading fat books for the simple reason that one long book often means that my to-be-read-pile stays static or worse, grows. At 600 pages, The Exiled Prince or The Archquisitor’s Tale is on the long side but I read it on a friend’s recommendation. I’m glad I did.

The book is set in Nova Europa 1090 in the French-speaking state of Neustria. The prologue introduces us to Prince Theodoric who wishes only to see the great semaphore stations with his grandfather the King . Along the way, Theodoric sees a shivering and terrified dog stranded on an ice floe. Theodoric experiences the dog’s cold, saves the poor animal and provides it a safe and warm home.

The next character we meet is Gregoire Malateste who is serving his parish. Life is not easy but between the King’s generosity and basic cooperation, everyone fares well. His place as a local priest suits him perfectly but church officials decide to promote him to subquisitor. His first task is to ferret out magic banned by canon law and, more importantly, to shake down a village that has offended the Church by its paltry donations. Malateste accepts his promotion and its duties. In the process, he stands by and allows an injustice to occur. Malateste attempts to recapture justice by bringing down the church officials who brow beat him into the evil deed but ends up becoming a twisted and malevolent shell of his former self.

The prologue ends with Fate also blighting the course of Prince Theodoric’s life. During a hunt, he accidentally kills the king while trying to save the king from the goring of a boar.

In the intervening years, Prince Theodoric has grown into a young man with a fondness for games played in taverns. He leaves one such game to attend a celebration for Malateste who has climbed up the church hierarchy to become the Archquisitor. Unfortunately, Malateste celebrates by killing all the males in the royal family except for Prince Theodoric who escapes. Theodoric’s escape is a minor inconvenience to Malateste, whose short-term goal is to rule as regent while the surviving child of the king comes of age. In the end, Malateste intends to build an empire to rival the Pope’s by conquering neighboring states. Prince Theodoric’s previous killing of a king and fleeing the scene of the slaughter make him the perfect patsy.

For the rest of the book, Prince Theodoric spends much of his time running from the law and having a grand adventure. There is magic but it is subtle and the story is not addicted to it. There are several other plots afoot in this book that come together nicely in the end but they are too complex to cover here. Suffice to say, the fate of Neustria and many other states hangs in the balance. Malateste is a corrupt and malicious tyrant.

The characters are well written and believable. We fear for some, despise the villainous, and are amused by others (in particular the gaggle of displaced monks). The plot is intelligent and Reginald is an excellent storyteller. The world created by the author is rich in its attention to cultural and social detail. Puns crop up here and there. In many ways, this is the book that all the bad Tolkien imitators want to write but cannot because they fail to understand that Tolkien wrote from an intuitive sense of history, tragedy and peril to scale. The scale of peril in The Exiled Prince is not of the end of humanity but of allowing the worst sorts of corrupt men to rule in name of God.

The feeling of historical depth is disorienting. On more than one occasion, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t reading either an alternative history book or historical fiction. Readers who enjoyed Harry Turtledove’s Ruled Brittania would probably enjoy this book. Perhaps the one drawback is that while the pacing is good it is not fast-paced. Readers who cherish fast pacing above all other qualities should look elsewhere.

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